Chinese Fast Food: Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍

img_20161012_194905

Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍 is perhaps one of the cheapest and most delicious types of Chinese street food. The most common English name is “Chinese hamburger.” Basically, its just meat between two pieces of bread. The most traditional of these involve stewed pork that his been finely chopped and stuffed into a small type of Chinese flat bread. Currently, there are many different varieties, but the sandwich originated in Xian. The history of the flatbread and stewing of pork involved suggest that this Xian snack actually out dates all other sandwiches in the world.

img_20161012_194954

Many of my Chinese friends become shocked when I often joke that it’s the most “American” thing in Chinese cuisine. Sandwiches are a huge part of American food, especially in places like Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City. Even more, in the southern part of the USA, a “pulled pork” sandwich is a common thing sold along roads. The process is different, and the difference being “pulled pork” is slowly roasted and the meat fibers are tugged apart and separated either by hand or with knives. No matter whether you are in China or the USA, you are still eating shreds of pork between two pieces of bread. By the way, the best pulled pork sandwich in Changzhou is actually at Daniel’s Irish Pub in Xinbei.

Pulled pork picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This is NOT DANIEL’S pulled pork sandwich in Xinbei.

 

As for rou jia mo, it’s a very common thing in Changzhou if you know how to look for it. Part of it is just being able to spot 肉夹馍 on kiosk signs. As fast food when in a rush, it is far much cheaper than getting a sandwich at McDonalds, KFC, or Burger King.

Where To Get Your Degree Validated in Changzhou

Provincial policies regarding English and other teaching subject areas are always changing and evolving both here in Jiangsu province and across China in general. For example, the days of just having a TEFL certificate in Changzhou are long gone, and to be legal, you have to have at least a Bachelors from an accredited English speaking university. When I came to Changzhou back in 2014, only a photograph of this degree was needed to get a Foreign Expert Certificate. That changed many months ago. Now, if you are changing jobs, you have to go to a governmental office with a copy of your actual bachelors, masters, or doctorate.

For those in Jiangsu, this can be problematic. There are only five places in the province where you can get this done. They are Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, Nanjing, and Huaian. If you live in any other Jiangsu city, like Yancheng, Xuzhou, Yangzhou, and others, you are out of luck. You will have take a day trip to process your paperwork. Some offices might except express deliveries, but think about that for a moment. This is your actual, real degree you are mailing, not a copy. Do you really trust the mail with such an important document? Do you trust the office worker to mail it back to you correctly?

Fortunately for those of us in Changzhou, we do have a validation office. What that process entails and costs is perhaps a post for another time, and besides, a new hire’s foreign officer should be able to help with the minutia. What I am more concerned with is how to get to the office in Changzhou. It is not easy if you do not know where you are going. Here are the steps in getting to that office.

boailu

  1. Go to Boai Road. This road is in the city center, and it’s between Nandajie and the downtown train station. In the area, you will will find a lot of shops that sell eBikes. So, if you see those places, you are on the right road. Keep looking.

img_20161009_2008021

2. On Boai Road, you will find an alley next to Donghai Securities. If somebody has given you a Chinese address and you have plugged it into a maps app, it will lead you here. This is where it gets tricky.

img_20161009_2011521

3. Walk into that alley. Keep your eyes to the left. Look for an entrance made of glass with three steps. Once you walk through the door, you should be able to go straight to an elevator. Take that elevator to the fourth floor.

img_20161009_2019161

4. Once you get out of the elevator, follow the hallway until you find the door pictured above. You will have to go through a walkway bridging from building to another.

img_20161009_2022241

5. Find this door. Yes, the above picture is blurry and unclear. Sue me. This was a darkly lit hallway, and I took these pictures on a weekend, when the office was closed.

In truth, the time window on degree validations is likely nearing its end. Most people who have to do this have probably already done this now. People who want to come to China, but who are still living in their home country, actually have to go to their nearest consulate to do this. That being said, some might have to go to this office for some reason, and it really is absurdly difficult to find if you don’t know where you are going.

Zombie Spongebob

tumblr_oekpynlres1qebibeo1_540
To an extent, I can say I have seen Spongebob Squarepants turn into a zombie, and I wouldn’t be lying. But first, let me back up and explain something. I have lived in Changzhou now since 2014. For my first two years here, I taught English at a vocational college. At this college, they had stone traffic blockers painted like famous cartoon characters. Angry Birds? Yes. Baymax? Totally. Doraemon? Many of him. Pikachu? Yup! And then, of course, Spongebob.

Years later, and the weather has not been kind to Spongebob. I have since moved on from that vocational college and have moved out of Wujin completely and am now in Xinbei. However, each time, I have returned to that college, Spongebob has beginning worse and worse. Does he still look a bit too chipper? Yes. Does he also look he walked off the set of The Walking Dead and like he wants you eat your brains? Also, yes.

tumblr_oekpynlres1qebibeo2_540

Tartine: Rembrance of Pastries Past

Sometimes, smells and tastes can elicit extremely old memories. Just ask Marcel Proust. In Swann’s Way, a madeleine cake sparks an involuntary memory that fills out the rest of a novel. That novel leads to six more after it that is now most commonly remembered as Remembrance of Things Past. I had a similar experience once, but it wasn’t nearly as epic as Proust’s masterpiece. In fact, it would be quite silly to compare me and anything I have done to Proust. I just know involuntary memory is real, and it really does happen. The older you get, the more it happens.

For a long time, I used to ride my ebike past Tartine on Jinling Road in Downtown Changzhou. It’s a French bakery. Normally, I had places to go and people to meet, so I never stopped. One day, however, I let curiosity get the better of me, and I walked in. The smell of the place was like a punch to the face that sent me reeling for a bit. The smell of fresh baguettes mixed with the sweet scent of pastry dough. For a long moment, I just stood in the door, motionless. In my mind, I was back in Belgium, and I was 1990. I had recently discovered Slayer, and I had South of Heaven in my portable cassette player and blaring through headphones. I was on my skateboard, and the smell of a patisserie made me stop, kick up my board, and walk in — even when I didn’t know what I wanted to buy or even the French words to buy it with. I just knew there was something in that patisserie I had to have.

img_20161002_184955

Years later, somebody saying “Huānyíng guānglín! (欢迎光临!)” brought be back to reality. I blinked a few times and looked at the Chinese woman behind Tartine’s counter. Nearby, there were chocolate croissants, apple danishes, and so much more.  Since it was lunch time, I opted for the quiche, which they promptly warmed up for me and served with a glass of water.

img_20161002_185119

And? Simply put, that was like more than a year ago, and it is still the best quiche I have ever had in Changzhou. Back then, I took a picture of it and posted it on Wechat. Some of my Chinese friends gave me interested, but really puzzled responses like “Is that pizza?” I had to tell them it wasn’t — that is was eggs, mushroom, other veggies, and ham in a pie crust. Even more, the baguettes and pastries here are also quite good and arguable some of the best in Changzhou, but I always return for the Tartine’s quiche more than anything else.

img_20161002_185050

Holy Men with Absurd Eyebrows

Image courtesy of Yahoo.

More than a decade before I ever thought of moving to China, I had fallen in love with martial arts films. I especially loved the ones set in ancient Chinese history. While shopping for DVDs back in 2002, if i saw a Taoist or Buddhist monk on the cover, I was easily sold. One image has stuck with me ever since then, almost like a animated gif or Wechat sticker eternally lodged into my mind: a Shaolin monk in a simple white robe stands in his fighting stance, and his absurdly long, white eyebrows flutter in the wind. I didn’t see this in just one Hong Kong kung fu flick, but many — too many to count.

At the time, I thought the image was a bit silly. Part of me always wondered why monks chose to grow their eyebrows out so long. Then again, part of me never cared enough to spend some time actually googling the subject. However, I recently realized that there really was a cultural meaning behind it all, and it came from my usual random-association pattern of thinking.

Over at Dalin Temple, in the eastern part of Changzhou near Wuxi, there is a hall of colorful luohan. The statues look cartoonish with flashy and brightly colored paint jobs. One particular luohan wears a blue robe and standing on a giant crab. His eyebrows are so long, he has two others standing next to him, holding his excess ropes of hair for him. Last time I was at Dalin, I laughed at this the same way I laughed at all those ass kicking Shoalin monks in old Chinese action films.

img201607161157361

Much later, I actually made a real cultural connection between luohan statues and all those cinematic eyebrows blowing in the wind. In Buddhism, luohan — or arhat as they are called in Sanskrit — are religious people who have reached perfection. Often, I like to call them the Buddhist equivalent of Christian saints. There are 18 original luohan in Chinese Buddhism. These were the original followers of Buddha. If you want another Christian parallel, you could liken them to the 12 apostles that originally followed Jesus.

One of those 18 luohan was a man named Changmei 长眉羅漢. His name in Sanskrit was Asita. He was also the person who initially predicted the rise of Gautama Buddha, and that was no small feat. If I am forced to draw another Christian parallel, than maybe Changmei / Asita is a figure like John the Baptist — the final Christian prophet that actually blessed Jesus.

I could be wrong, but what about all those extremely long eyebrows those movie martial arts monks have? Maybe it’s a way of honoring this important figure within Buddhism?